It’s been a week—or an eternity—of embarrassments for the human race, though for once fate’s sense of humor was as well-timed as a Johnny Carson joke: the running gag over Barack Obama’s birth certificate culminated at the same time as that other gag known as the British monarchy. Unfortunately, neither Obama releasing proof of his whereabouts on his first day of Genesis nor the marriage of William and Kate plus 8,000 television anchors is likely to put an end to either charade.
We’re living through something like a reverse Renaissance, a retro dark age where faith in manufactured fictions becomes more powerful than fact. That a sizable portion of Americans believe Obama was not born in this country is no different than the sizable portion of Americans who think he’s Muslim, or the equally sizable portion of Americans who to this day think Saddam Hussein plotted the 9/11 attacks or that those weapons of mass destruction will turn up one of these days and prove the Iraq invasion sham right after all, or the even more sizable portion of Americans who don’t know their socialism from their Medicare. If people want to believe in their prejudices, they’ll invent the stories to make those prejudices stick. Blacks didn’t endure 400 years of slavery because white Americans had a knack for the rational.
The birther thing wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t have that very silly clause in the Constitution that requires a person to be a natural born citizen of the United States to be eligible for president. That, too, was the product of a darker age when the same constitution could bar more than three quarter of the population, counting women, blacks, Indians—those other natural born citizens—and anyone without property from voting or holding office. All those restrictions thankfully withered away. The prohibition against an immigrant becoming president in the land of immigrants somehow survives. But if Arnold Schwarzenegger could rule over California, the eighth largest economy in the world, why couldn’t he run for president? How is Austria any different than, say, the Panama Canal zone, swiped by the United States once upon a time and where John McCain was born, though no one raised an issue about that when he hobbled his way through the presidential campaign.
And what if Obama had had the misfortune of being a tiny bit older, being born in Hawaii two years before he actually did, and before Hawaii became a state? What if he doctored his age? What if he is, in fact, a Muslim, and a practicing one at that? It really makes no difference whether Obama was born in Hawaii, Kenya or Greenland, anymore than it makes a difference whether he believes in God, Allah or something Wiccan, or nothing at all. What matters are the dismal political and economic realities we’re living with right now, and how to get through them. As Obama put it this week, “We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”
But carnival barkers get higher ratings. To wit: the British monarchy, yin to birthers’ yang. These people cost British taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year to keep up a pretense that should have been abolished centuries ago. Not that unelected heads of state are ever legitimate. There is no more legitimacy to the House of Windsor than there is to those unelected monarchs and presidents who’ve been making life hell for 300 million Middle Easterners. The fortunate difference is that the British monarchy has no power except to waste money and give souvenir manufacturers a boost. Somehow because Elizabeth II endears and endures and, unlike the rest of her family, doesn’t make tampon jokes or get drunk in public, the monarchy is preserving a hint of dignity. But she’s the last façade over a recurring royal blush that should be put out of its misery. Her funeral, when it comes soon, should be the last of the great, pointless displays of ostentation. People like their fairy tales. But give me the Magic Kingdom over the House of Windsor any day.
Oh, wait, this just in, an actual ABC News email alert that popped up as I was writing this piece this morning: “Kate Middleton Wears Wedding Gown by Sarah Burton,” of Alexander McQueen’s fashion house. I kid you not. We had 300 people killed by tornadoes in Alabama yesterday, the American economy is slowing back down to a crawl, bloodbaths continue in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan and Japana’s nuclear hell is still getting hotter even as it’s been bumped off the front page, but this is what commands a news alert: Kate Middleton’s wedding gown. And we wonder why birthers could command this nation’s attention for as long as they did.